The lighthouse at Cape May is seldom open but the park around it is very nice. There are three trail segments that total anywhere from .7 to 4.5 miles. The first section takes you through the wetlands section and is on dry boards mounted above the water. There are two bird watching lookouts along the route. The second section is along dirt paths and takes you through the brush and along down to the beach. Once there you will encounter the WWII artillery fortification that has seen better days before looping back towards the lighthouse. Along the way you will see flamingo, cranes and waterfowl of all sorts as well as a variety of wildlife loose in the wetlands.
The Cape May Lighthouse was built in 1859 to guide sailors through the channel between Cape May and Lewes PA into the Delaware Bay. It was restored in the mid 1990s and is now one of the major tourist sights in the area. In fact, it has been a tourist attraction almost since it was first built. Read what it says on the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts’ website:
In 1882, the Cape May Ocean Wave reported that "the gentleman superintendent in charge [of the lighthouse], Mr. Samuel Stillwell, takes pleasure in showing visitors who have the nerve and strength of limb to the top, the interior of the lantern, and explaining the interesting operations of the light. A very picturesque view of the sea, bay, and country may also be obtained from the giddy heights of the edifice."
I like this description because it describes exactly the experience we had when visiting the lighthouse over 100 years later, in 2008! Having climbed the 199 steps of the beautiful spiral staircase we were greeted at the top by a gentleman with an obvious enthusiasm for lighthouses, and for this one in particular, who told us all about the lantern and the workings of the various mechanisms involved in keeping it alight, and about how life would have been for the early lighthouse keepers. We then went out on to the gallery that runs right round the top to see the very good views of the State Park immediately below us and the bay and the town of Cape May beyond. It was very windy and although there’s a high cage-like railing, it isn’t a good place for those scared of heights. Likewise the long climb would be too much for some people and you’re warned not to tackle it if you suffer from certain conditions or from vertigo.
If you do choose to climb you’ll be pleased to know that there are several points where you can pause to look at small exhibits on various themes. I was very interested in one that showed how the shoreline is being gradually eroded and the effect that this has had on local people – some houses have been lost to the sea, and others moved in their entirety to different locations.
The cost for entry when we visited was $7 for adults, but you can also purchase a number of different combination tickets. We chose ones that covered entry to the Emlen Physick House and lighthouse, which cost $16 per person (a saving of $2 each on the separate entry fees). The lighthouse tower is open daily from April to November, and weekends only for the rest of the year. The opening hours vary – check at the MAC information booth in Washington Street Mall before visiting if you’re not sure.
As well as being a tourist attraction this is still a working lighthouse. Its light is visible 24 miles out at sea and flashes every 15 seconds. It is operated by the US Coastguard on behalf of the State of New Jersey, which owns the lighthouse, while the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts is responsible for the restoration and its operation as a visitor attraction.
A couple of miles to the west of town lies Cape May Point State Park, which is well worth a visit. Perhaps the main attraction here is the lighthouse, which I’ve covered in a separate tip, but there’s plenty more to do besides, and you could easily spend the best part of a day here, as we did. There are a number of highlights:
Nature trails: there are several of these. We did a short (half mile) trail that led to a hide by a small lake from where we could see lots of birdlife including swans, geese, various species of duck etc., some of which you can see in my photos. This trail has a wheelchair-friendly surface, and plenty of information en route about the different plants found in this environment. We also did the mid-length (1.5 miles) one which led past small ponds and provided some great angles for photos such as this one with a reflection of the lighthouse. There is a third trail of about 2 miles in length which we didn’t do.
Hawk Observatory: this is one of the most popular sites in North America for viewing the fall bird migration, especially hawks and other raptors, and we were there at just the right time of year. Even for non-experts such as us, it was a thrill to join in with everyone else on the special viewing platform, looking out for each speck in the sky. The Cape May Bird Observatory staff the platform during the migrating season, so there was an expert on hand to identify the birds for us and tell us something about them. Each year this organisation counts every hawk spotted and logs them daily. The platform is an elaborate structure with several tiers; beginners are asked to stand on the right side, where the hawk counters and interns are positioned, although this system wasn’t obvious when we were there.
World War II Bunker: the odd-looking (and it has to be said, rather ugly) structure down on the beach is the only remaining structure from the military base that was once on this site. This bunker was once 900 feet inland and would have been surrounded by earth and covered by sod, so that it would have looked as if it were a hill from the sea or air. Now much of it is submerged by the sea, a clear sign of the coastal erosion at this point, but at low tide you can still see the gun turrets at the front.
Museum: there is a small collection of exhibits mainly relating to local wildlife in the visitor centre at the park. The lady there was very helpful in helping me identify the butterfly I had photographed, which it turned out was the only member of the swallowtail family not to have a swallowtail – no wonder I was confused!
As well as all of the above, there’s a lovely beach to walk or sit on, depending on the time of year (I imagine it could be great here in the winter!) and a covered decked area overlooking the sea with a few picnic tables. There are public toilets but no food or drinks available for sale, so do as we did and bring a picnic.
The lighthouse was built in 1859 and had faithfully sent out its lifesaving beam every night from October 31, 1859 until it was darkened in 1941 due to a mandatory blackout imposed along the Atlantic coastline during World War II. Later that year, a more modern aero-type beacon known as a DCB-36 optic replaced the sentinel?s gorgeous first order Fresnel lens. Since that time, the U.S. Coast Guard has ensured the Cape May Lighthouse continued to flash its characteristic white light every 15 seconds to mariners as far out to sea as twenty-four miles. The light remains operational, even today.
Hours: The park is open daily from dawn to dusk. The lighthouse is open daily from April to mid-October and weekends from mid-February to March and mid-October to January 1st. It is closed January to mid-February. Admission to the Visitors Orientation Center and the ground floor of the lighthouse is free. Lighthouse Tower admission is $5 for adults and $1 for children (ages 3-12).
If your staying in or around Cape May, you should visit the Cape May Lihgthouse. It's a short 10 minute ride from Cape May to Cape May Point State Park where the lighthouse is located. This lighthouse was first lit in 1859 and stands 157 1/2 feet tall which you can climb to the top for some great views of the surrounding beaches. There are several other thing to do while here at the park, you will find great bird watching such as wading birds & hawk & swans, a WWII bunker that was a gun placement at the beach and can be reached at low tide, it's sister bunker is located across the Delaware Bay at Lewis Delaware. Good day trip and bring your camera!
cost and phone number below.
Open daily 8-4 May - Nov.
Weekends Dec. - April
Children 3-12 $1.00
Just a little bit aways from the town, you'll find the Cape May Lighthouse. You can climb the lighthouse for a small fee (maybe $5), which affords some nice views of the ocean and region from the top. Also, the beach right next to it is really quite nice to stroll along.
The Light beacon flashes every 15 seconds and can be seen from 24 miles out at sea. The present day lighthouse is actually the third lighthouse built at Cape May point and was constructed beginning in 1857 by the Army Corps of Engineers.
There are 218 steps from the ground to the top, with 199 steps in the tower's cast iron spiral staircase.
From the top you can see a beautiful view of all Cape May point, Sunset Beach and make out the sunken concrete ship "The Atlantis", over to the amusement piers in the Wildwoods.
Cape May Lighthouse is a nice old refurbished lighthouse. Climb the 218 steps to see a wonderful view of the ocean and Cape May Point State Park. There's a man who sits on the top of the lighthouse answering any questions one might have about lighthouses and Cape May. The lighthouse was built in 1859 and is still in use.
The Lighthouse on the southern most part of Cape is beautiful. I found out from Jim Hogan that its the longest continually run lighthouse in America.
Check Out The Travelogue !
It has an internal spiral staircase that winds all the way to the top.
Cape May Point State park is a birders paradise and has been listed in the top ten places in the United States for sheer variety of species. Scenically situated at the very south end of the city, the lighthouse acts not only as a beacon for ships but also for tourists who flock to the park to enjoy it’s sights and hiking trails
This 1859 structure is one of the nation's most historic lighthouses. Still an active aid to navigation where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, it has been restored as a quality maritime museum. View informative displays or shop for lighthouse memorabilia in the Visitors' Orientation Center, then climb the 199 step spiral staircase to the top for a spectacular panoramic view. Join us for the living history experience, THE KEEPER'S ON DUTY, when Harry and Belle Palmer greet you at the top with tales of their life and work in the 1920s.
The lighthouse is pretty nice to look at from the outside, but from inside (the top) you can get a clear bird's eye view of Cape May and the beach. Speaking of birds... there is also a bird refuge across from the lighthouse where you can watch many species of birds. This may be exciting for some... maybe.
Neat thing to see while you're trying not to spend all day laying on the beach. I think you can climb up it but R and I are wary of heights so we chickened out. Maybe it was just laziness.